A few Oud recordings

So, over the past year I’ve been learning to play the oud. It’s the first new instrument I’ve picked up since the mandolin, and it’s the first fretless stringed instrument I’ve ever seriously taken up. It’s a deeply wonderful instrument, much more vocal and intuitive than a guitar due to the lack of frets – your fingers are (literally) closer to the music.

oudI’ve grown to really love music that is played on the instrument. You’ll probably assume that I fell in love with Marcel Khalife’s music, but that’s not entirely true. The first oud player I really grew to love is Sameeh Shuqair, after a friend in Palestine introduced me to the song “Blood Falls” about the siege on the Jenin refugee camp. Mostly using youtube I was able to discover many songs by Shuqair, and I also discovered other amazing musiciens such as Sami Hawat, Sheikh Imam, Naseer Shamma, Munir Bashir, and Zyad Rabbani. Not oud players, but prominently featuring the oud is also the music of Fairouz and Um Kalthoom. I did eventually try to listen to Marcel Khalife seriously, but I’ve never liked the way his music is soaked in orchestral strings. So when I discovered his first recording “Promises of the Storm” (1976), it was like a breath of fresh air, or a cool crisp glass of water. Since falling in love with that record, I have been listening to his catalogue more broadly as well, but I always go back to “Promises of the Storm”.

I’m writing this now because I’ve finally started doing some home recordings of myself playing the oud, and I want to share them. So they are up on my soundcloud, where you can listen to them (or even download them if you like).

SJP National Saturday Update

There is so much to say about the first complete day of the second annual SJP national conference, I don’t know much where to start. And, since it’s late and I’m tired, I don’t think I’ll get to most of it. The opening plenaries were fantastic. Noura Erekat gave a rousing talk (it really could have been at a rally) about the importance of not playing the normalization game. Hatem Bazian talked about the history of SJP and the context in which Palestine solidarity organizing grew up. I was most surprised to learn that part of the Oslo agreements was the PLO agreeing to disband its international political structure to support Palestinians all over the world, and that between 93 and 96 there was almost no Palestine activism in the diaspora that was not within the discourse of Oslo.

The pleneries were followed by the political development workshop. I picked “bilad al sham”, which focussed on Syria and the question of the Arab context. The talk was very sophisticated, and there was a lot of involvement by the participants, but overall my impression was really quite depressing. Not because the talk was bad, but because there just seems to be nothing redemptive in the Syrian struggle. This attitude that the FSA is not worth supporting because there are a few groups inside it which are highly problematic – I don’t like this. And I still don’t understand why unconditional support for Hezbollah because of 2006 justifies opposing the removal of a regime, when most of the groups calling for the downfall are doubtfully less politically messed up, at least internally, than Hezbollah. Also, I find it strange that we can talk for hours about Syria without ever talking about the PLA or Ahmed Jibril’s group. For me, what is crucial about Syria is that it is a dictatorship which tries to co-opt liberation struggles for its own glorification and self legitimization. I don’t personally see how Syria’s support of Hezbollah is so different from its attempt to destroy and take over the PLO for its own purposes back in the 80s. I am trying to write something about this – about Syria, Palestine and agency, hopefully I can put that up soon.

The rest of the sessions for the day were taken up with trying to organize some kind of SJP national list serves, some kind of national structure which is not an intellectual leadership. The discussions I took part in were all too short, too abstract, and did not come to very satisfying conclusions. Still, I signed up for the “making connections in Palestine” list serve because I think these kind of connections could be productive to coordinate on a national level.

The evening’s cultural event was really something special. So many hip hop artists, singers, spoken word artists – all amazing. I think I have some new names for my playlists. I don’t have a list of the performers right now, but when I get a hold of one I will make a post just on that – there are really some worthwhile things here. It was truly an all-star line up.


Les Performance Géniale: Blogothèque

If you haven’t already discovered this, I highly recommend a visit to this website. The blogothèque group films performances of different artists in non-standard situations. Perhaps my favorite is Aloe Blacc’s performance of “I need a dollar’, spontaneously sung around a table in a small restaurant in Paris. Also impressive if Sutjan Stevens’ performance of “The Lakes of Canada’ on a rooftop. Also a must watch are Bon Iver’s performances of Skinny Love and Flume.

What I really like about these performances is they encourage the viewer to get out and do something creative themselves. I have a camera, I have music skills – it follows that I have no excuse not to be creating art in public places in interesting ways. And since there is no single or enduring form of the Blogotheque performance, I don’t think doing this would be really “copycat’, but rather the extension of the mere idea of spontaneous performance in a public place.

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An excuse, a song, and some remembrance day references

I’ve been busy with thesis work lately, soon I’ll put together some readable pieces on some questions in political philosophy I’m wrestling with.

Also, yesterday this song spilt out of me, right after reading that Ford is asking the #occupytoronto protestors to leave the park.

As for remembrance day, I wrote this fairly satisfactory piece a few years ago. This year I spent the day thinking of the revolutionaries who have fought and continue to fight against colonization and oppressive regimes all around the world. From Palestine to Algeria, and Ireland to Oka, revolutionary causes sometimes require the commitment of individuals to make the complete sacrifice for the cause. If you can’t stomach supporting those who have the courage to fight against your colonial state, then at least check out Milan’s post from today, an excellent piece which focusses on the suffering of civilians in war, and the moral courage of objectors, “who have had the courage to refuse to fight – and those who had the even greater courage to speak out publicly against unjust wars”.


Embarassing moment on an airplane

In a few weeks I am performing Extreme’s More than Words, and The Beatles All You Need is Love at a friend’s wedding in France. I’ve been working on the Extreme song, but I haven’t so much on the other, so on the airplane I thought I would get out my laptop and listen to the song a few times, to get it running around in my head. I only had the earphones supplied by the airline, and no matter how carefully I pushed them into my ears, even turned up all the way I just couldn’t hear the song very well. I thought perhaps they were very low impedance. Then I realized they weren’t plugged in, and my laptop speakers were screaming out “All You Need is Love” at full volume. Unfortunately, that wasn’t until the song had ended.

I was very embarrassed, but surprisingly, I didn’t get any disapproving looks. The flight attendant actually smiled at me while it was playing, only later did I realize she could hear the song as well.

I wonder how much of a faux-pas this mistake actually was. Perhaps people were happy to hear some Beatles blaring through the middle of a very boring flight. Maybe they thought I was making some kind of political statement (the politics of “All you need is love”?). Either way, a funny incident – one that reminds me that anyone (especially me) can do very socially awkward things without realizing they are happening.

Rush – live in Montreal

Last week I had the good fortune of seeing Rush play live in Montreal. They have been around for about as long as any band, and they played music from each of their 4 decades of existence. In many ways the show was great – good song selection (except, any songs from the 90s and 2000s is too many), good musicianship, and they appeared to be having a great time. Geddy’s voice can still hit the high notes, although he can’t really hit them with the raspy power he had in the 1970s.  Alex Lifeson’s playing was mostly right-on, but as a huge guitar nerd, I was able to notice most times he deviated from the record, or made a mistake.

My brother pointed out something which I think is pretty true of Rush – since the end of their “keyboard period” they are no longer really a prog band, but a rock band. Not a normal rock band, something like “jazz rock”, but not jazz rock exactly.

The sound in the Bell Centre wasn’t great; the bass was very muddy and there was interference between the bass and drums, such that you could only really hear the bass when the drums were not playing.

Rush is a great band, but for people who are not already into them, I would recommend you watch the documentary “Beyond the Lighted Stage” rather than see a live show.

Natural vs Positive law and the Endurance of Social Values

The Natural/Positive law debate appears to be about the connection between law and morality. It is often phrased “is there a necessary connection between the notion of law and morality”? The debate often appears extremely inane, partially because the terms used by both sides literally don’t mean the same thing: a traditional “natural law” theorist might refuse to call an unjust law a law, and therefore declare we should not obey it – whereas a positive law theorist would say it is indeed a law, but the question of whether you should obey it is a moral question you must decide. In some sense, it comes down to what we mean when we say “it is the law” – do we mean you must obey it, or do we merely mean that you will be sanctioned if you do not? Or, does it mean something else entirely?

In my understanding, the Natural law versus Positive law debate is really a debate about the value of endurance of social values, or of the status quo. The endurance of the status quo can clearly not be held to be an absolute value, because that could produce social relations which are anachronistic and inappropriate. This is the problem of utopianism. This fallacy is expressed in the positive law side’s characterization of natural law: natural law affirms that you should follow the law because it is the now, the law is in itself moral. The same fallacy is expressed in natural law’s condemnation of positive law: obey the law because it is the law, do not have moral concerns that a law may be not a genuine law because it is immoral.

In effect, both sides agree on the substantial question: there is some value in obeying the law simply because it is the law. And at the same time, there is some value in considering the possible difference between what you should do, and what the law tells you to do. If people over-value personal conscience, the danger is anarchy and revolt. If people over-value the status quo, the danger is fascism or other utopian nightmares.

Natural law has the advantage of holding the paradox in tension, however, because it holds a realist position with respect to the law’s need to adhere to a basic standard of rightness – and this standard is not perfect rightness, but an aversion from complete injustice – no one invokes natural law to say a law which isn’t completely perfect is no law at all, only laws which are highly injustice. Natural law, due to its moral realism, encourages you to think that the question of whether you should adhere to law is the same question as whether everyone should adhere to law.

Positive law has the disadvantage of obscuring the normative character of the law which derives from our intuitive moral realism about social forms. Because we intuitively believe that following the rules is fair, and only question it if the rules are demonstrably unfair (because with no rules, coordination dilemmas reduce overall welfare) that natural law can be a basis for denouncing a law. Positive law does not account for the normative force rules derive not from the force that stands behind them, but by the social complicitness, acquiescence to the rules. No political power can rule long by force alone – public acceptance of the rightness of the rules is required.  Positive law allows us to say “the fact it is a law does not give me a reason, morally, to follow it” – however, this obscures the basic fact that the mere existence of a law does give us some moral obligation, though not a perfect one.

Standard interpretations of both natural and positive law interpretations of the connection between law and morality suffer from a poverty of subtlety – they both assume that if law and morals are connected, they must be connected by way of an identity. But, an identity need not be a perfect identity, and the question of a relation need not be clear. And, this seems to be the case here: the connection between law and morality is neither one of “law creates duty” nor “law, on its own, never creates duty”. In essence, both make the mistake of radical individualism – that law is a relation between the sovereign and myself. In fact, law is a relation between myself and my peers, as well as between myself and the sovereign, and between my peers and the sovereign. Social movements or their absence is required for the maintenance of existing laws, and can be the cause of legal transformations.

Heidegger and Levinas to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

To the problem of the other how many lines should we devote?
Levinas expounded plenty, Heidegger a dozen strokes but
of phenomenologists most eminent whom to this problem did devote
who’s song doth please us more?

To Levinas the gap between the self and other is a gulf
we cannot ever bridge the distance, so we ever pass in stealth
for others are not merely objects but mysteries of wealth
separation respects us more!

But for Heidegger the presence of the other is not strange
“standing around” is not objective, but circumspection foiled in vain,
for every da-sein is mit-dasein, meeting others is its name!
Communion befits us more!

Now Derrida attacked Herr Levinas for his thesis so serene
that separation from the other was complete and prior and clean
what could Jacque make of a thought that was so ludicrous and mean?
For non-violence is violence even more!

But Derrida’s critique of Levinas clearly misses the point
of Philosophical ideas, ludicrousness them do anoint
for every great line of thinking is truly bonkers at its joint
What should we therefore say?

Perhaps Levinas’ critique of Heidegger is not as clear as day
but in a little joke at Schelling, maybe there it hidden lay
“the vanity of pantheism” what here appears to our dismay?
what might this mean for us?

First we should note that for Herr Levinas: (that) man is infinite
and the gulf between too persons is caused by this and not by depth
which Schelling posits must arise when beings relate from chest to chest
Levinas is a Platonist!

Now quick recall that for Herr Heidegger man’s nature is finite
and yet experience of chaos does exceed the bounds of sight
this is the meaning of our “thrownness” – we cannot contain with all our might
the world, ourselves in which we find

it is therefore quite impossible for da-sein to produce
from out his essential nature all the depths his world doth view
most essential in this excess is other men he thinks he knew
the relation is enacted, it does not precede!

So quite common while it is for Heidegger to be condemned
as a Kantian idealist, the “outside world” which must contend
is essentially connected to dasein, and to hearts of men:
with other men he genuinely dwells!

We must therefore ask what possible advantage might be served
denying a priori openness to others seems perturbed
but phenomenological inquiry needs its precepts for to learn
what could the Levinas be getting at?

We can clearly see that in a sense Herr Levinas was right
philosophical inquiry based on the same can serve the might
of totalitarian assumptions: the volk is one and difference slight
is “being with” therefore fascist?

But if we clearly examine the words we find in Being and Time
which speak of the content of the relation between with other: he is not mine
between authentic and inauthentic my relation is defined
by holding him open towards his possibilities

The ethicality of Heidegger’s mitdasein should not surprise
his interpretation of Kant’s practical critique it doth surmise
others are beings that have themselves as their own end – is this not wise?
does Levinas even disagree?

Is not his normative conclusion simply “hospitality”
to not assume you know the other, not to neglect that he is free
not to pin him in a corner with your assumptions and your greed
not to grasp, but let him be

Seems to me these crucial figures the gulf between that seemed so deep
stems not from differences normative, how the other we should treat
but from fears and motivations metaphysical in reach
what ought we then conclude?

We should stop this endless feeling that somehow we must decide
which philosopher we should read and which thinker to deride
for in phenomenology many attempts may yet be tried
so stop the bickering!

Philosophers and thinkers who between them disagree
should not fight with tooth and nail and sword until they all agree
different streams can work in common, content shared in topics see
a better research model!

Politics of 70s Prog Rock

Last night Josh, Dave and I watched two rock music documentaries: “Classic Albums: Dark Side of the Moon”, and Rush’s “Beyond the Lighted Stage”. I was astonished at the different ways the two bands reacted to their own success, and how this manifested a different politics.

In short – Pink Floyd was damaged by its success. Fame and riches drove the band apart, and the great work they did after Dark Side was largely about that trauma and the possibility of empathy. In their own words – a major theme from Breathe on was “is it possible for humanity to be human”. Rush, on the other hand, took their success in stride and spent 20 years progressing, constantly moving onto new themes and new musical styles. Rush has never exhibited a sustained interest in empathy in their music – unsurprising considering their allegiance to Randian libertarianism. Their classic song Anthem makes this clear:

Live for yourself — there’s no one else
More worth living for
Begging hands and bleeding hearts will only cry out for more

Well, I know they’ve always told you
Selfishness was wrong
Yes it was for me, not you, I came to write this song

Compare this to some classic Floyd lyrics (from “Echoes”):

Strangers passing in the street
By chance two separate glances meet
And I am you and what i see is me
And do i take you by the hand
And lead you through the land
And help me understand the best i can

A closer comparison can be made, in fact, by contrasting these Floyd lyrics with a passage from Rush’s song “Entre Nous” (“Between Us”)

We are secrets to each other
Each one’s life a novel
No-one else has read.
Even joined in bonds of love,
We’re linked to one another
By such slender threads.

The conception of otherness expressed in Rush’s music finds itself centered on the lack of possibility of coming into communication, or getting ahold on, another. Ironically, it’s a bit Levinasian – although the Randian turn was not something I would normally associate with ethics of the face.

Personally, I prefer Floyd’s emphasis on empathy to Rush’s individualistic drive, which translates into hatred of cooperation, cultural sensitivity, and the poor. Floyd’s query: can humanity be humane” is all the more relevant in a world where the species is threatened with nuclear or ecological destruction.

Late August Songs

Musically, I go through cycles. For years, I’ll listen to the same music. And then in a day or a week, I’ll discover a plethora of new amazing songs, by exciting new (to me) artists. I thought I’d share some of the tunes I came across today and yesterday.

1.  MyHope (A myspace song)

MyHope is a fabulous like ukelele jingle about a time in the future when this generation’s kids find their parents old myspace profiles and amuse themselves with their parents old comments and haircuts. Nothing specific about this song is terribly new, it’s just terribly darling! The performer is Molly Lewis, and I came across her while searching for covers of “Still Alive“, the song from the end of Portal, the video game.  Her cover was the best, but her own songs are even better. She seems to be a bit of a hero on the comic-con scene. Her thing seems to be uke covers of pop songs. She’ll even play freebird.

2. If Only you were Lonely

I first heard this song (last night) while riding in a car with Dave – Sonny played it on my 1960s Sears Silvertone guitar, the one I bought at an antique store in Bellingham for 40$ and had to re-enforce to keep from collapsing when I put strings on it. It might have been the first time I’ve heard Sonny sing – certainly the first time he’s invoked the Gods of early New Country with his heartfelt voice.

3. Arthur Macbride (Paul Brady’s 1977 version)

I’ve known about this song a little longer – I was introduced to it at TAPSS. It’s a great anti-war song, a story of two Irish lads standing up to an English Seargent ,”who would have no scruples but to send [them] to France, where they would get shot without warning. ” I’m not sure how I feel about their subsequent beating of the Sergeant and the military drummer – but on the whole, I feel very positively about this number. It’s a fun one to play, also, since it’s in open G and has many irish stylistic embellishments.